A dry river bed at the Maasai Mara. Heat waves, forest fires, rising seas, droughts, diseases and flash floods could turn profitable destinations into holiday horror stories.

Last year, flash floods hit the Maasai Mara Game Reserve turning roads into streams and damaging the infrastructure. Months later, there is growing fear that we have not seen the last of the flash floods and that climate change will affect the way Kenya runs its tourism sector.

“The flash floods were part of a shift in climate change and we need to start looking at how this could continue to impact on us in future,” the Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority (ENSDA) the managing director, Mr Francis Nkako, said. Although the floods brought forth the issue of poor infrastructure in and around the reserve, little was said about the timing. Rains falling in December in the area are not the norm. It is now acknowledged that a shift in climatic conditions could spell doom, affecting the growth of grass and vegetation and lead to an animal migration shift.

Mr Nkako said both dry spells and heavy rains could impact negatively on the annual famous wildebeest, zebra and antelope migration from Serengeti to the Maasai Mara, which has raised the profile of tourism in the country. The game reserve is one of the sector’s popular attractions, having received the second highest number of visitors in 2006 — 316,500 — according to the 2007 Economic Survey.

Already, the reserve is faced with the destruction of part of the Mau Forest complex, especially Maasai Mau Forest, which in turn has affected the water table in the area. ENSDA is currently carrying out projects to conserve the forest and prevent future degradation that would lead to negative impact on the local economy.

The destruction of forests in the Mau forest has led to shrinking of lakes in the region. One of the country’s highest earning national parks, Lake Nakuru, which earned over Sh400 million last year, has been shrinking over the years mainly due to the destruction of forests in the surrounding area and rising temperatures.

The destruction has led to shrinking water levels. During a presentation at an eco-tourism conference in October, the Chief Executive of Tourism Trust Fund (TTF), Dr Dan Kagagi, noted that the country was witnessing the negative impact of climate change. The melting of glaciers on Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya had led to the shrinking of some lakes in the region, mainly due to insufficient inflow of water.

“While climate change will affect every sector of the economy, the tourism industry will be hardest hit, especially by unusual torrential rains and long droughts,” he added.


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